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South Australia is a diverse state in terms of land habitats, which include:

  • Coastal Areas: South Australia has a long coastline that stretches along the Southern Ocean and the Great Australian Bight. The coastal areas encompass sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, dunes, estuaries and coastal saltmarshes and wetlands. These habitats support a variety of terrestrial, marine and bird species.
  • Mallee and Scrublands: Mallee and scrublands dominate much of South Australia's interior regions. Mallee is characterised by small, multi-stemmed eucalyptus trees, while scrublands consist of low shrubs and heath vegetation. These habitats are adapted to the semi-arid conditions and support a range of wildlife, including reptiles, small mammals and bird species.
  • Rangelands: The rangelands of South Australia are vast open grasslands and savannas. These habitats are found in the northern and western parts of the state and support grazing animals such as kangaroos, emus and feral goats.
  • Wetlands: South Australia is home to many wetlands, including six RAMSAR wetlands of international importance (for example, the Coorong, Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert). These wetlands provide important breeding and feeding grounds for waterbirds, including migratory species. They also support a variety of fish, amphibians and plant species.
  • Riverine Systems: The major rivers in South Australia, such as the River Murray and its tributaries, create diverse riverine habitats. These habitats include floodplains, billabongs and riparian vegetation that support a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial species.
  • Arid and Desert Regions: Much of South Australia's interior is characterised by arid and desert landscapes, such as the Flinders Ranges and the Simpson Desert. These habitats are harsh and dry, but they still support unique arid-adapted plants, reptiles and small mammals.
  • Woodlands and Forests: In the southern parts of South Australia you can find pockets of woodlands and forests, primarily dominated by eucalyptus trees. These habitats are more abundant in the Mount Lofty Ranges and provide habitat for a variety of bird species and mammals like koalas and possums.

It is important to note that these habitat types can overlap and transition into one another, creating a mosaic of ecosystems within South Australia. The state's unique combination of coastal, arid and forested habitats contributes to its rich biodiversity.

The National Land Cover Account releases data on land coverage at a national and state/territorial scale. There has been a slight decline in cultivated vegetation cover, which is consistent with national reporting in the National Land Cover Account report and likely to have been driven by improved land management practices that have incorporated nature conservation and managed resource protection. Natural surfaces appear to have been increasing since 2008. The area of herbaceous natural surfaces has declined slightly. Data in the report shows that herbaceous and natural surfaces tend to be influenced by rainfall, with herbaceous cover decreasing and natural surfaces increasing with less rainfall.

National Land Cover Account - Southa Australian Land Cover
Time series for land cover stock position 1988–2020 (Australian Bureau of Statistics)

Natural terrestrial vegetated: herbaceous – areas dominated by grasslands and shrubs less than 2 m in height and woody canopy cover is less than 20%. Vegetation is not planted by humans but cover can be impacted by human activities (eg grazing). 
Cultivated terrestrial vegetated: herbaceous – vegetation (eg crops, grasses and shrubs) that is planted or managed by humans (eg tillage, harvested, irrigated, grazed).
Natural terrestrial vegetated: woody – areas covered by woody vegetation including natural and plantation forests.
Natural surfaces – areas with less than 4% vegetative cover and is dominated by bare rock areas, sand and deserts.

Native vegetation is important as it provides habitat and supports healthy ecosystems for our plants, animals and fungi. It also protects soils, coastlines and waterways from erosion and salinity, and stores carbon.

Native Vegetation Percentage Cover
Native Vegetation Clearance Applications under the Native Vegetation Act 1991
Native Vegetation Clearance Application Register – January 2010 to October 2022 (DEW)

Further reading